UNITED NATIONS :The top United Nations official in South Sudan says that the first reinforcements to the UN peacekeeping mission in the strife-torn country are expected to arrive within two days, as the country struggles with deadly violence and fears of civil war.
In the past week, there have been reports of mass graves and massacres in the African nation, as the political struggle between the country’s president and former vice-president descends into ugly ethnic killings.
“I call upon the political leaders of South Sudan to order their forces to lay down their arms and to give peace a chance and to do so urgently,” UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s Special Representative, Hilde Johnson, told reporters from Juba, South Sudan’s capital, via video link, on Thursday.
She stressed that South Sudan’s ethnic diversity should be a source of strength and unity, not of discord.
The special representative voiced hope that the UN mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) would begin to receive critical peacekeeping reinforcements of both military hardware and personnel on the ground within the next 48 hours, as the mission was overstretched to protect civilians in a conflict that was estimated to have claimed well over 1,000 lives.
“We are in desperate need for improved capacity and strength to be able to implement the mandate (to protect civilians) in a much more proactive way,” she said.
The reinforcements include both troops and critical assets such as helicopters, Ms. Johnson said, noting that over 50,000 civilians have already sought refuge at UN bases.
“But let me underline: all peacekeepers are under the instruction to use force when civilians are under imminent threat.”
On Tuesday, the Security Council authorized almost doubling the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) to nearly 14,000 personnel through the transfer of units if necessary from other UN forces in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Darfur, Abyei, Ivory Coast and Liberia.
Tensions within South Sudan, the world’s youngest country which only gained independence in 2011 after seceding from Sudan, burst out into open conflict on 15 December when President Salva Kiir’s Government said soldiers loyal to former deputy president Riek Machar, dismissed in July, launched an attempted coup. Mr. Kiir belongs to the Dinka ethnic group and Machar to the Lou Nuer. The conflict has been increasingly marked by reports of ethnically targeted violence.
“We are working round the clock to get assets in that can assist us in the current crisis as quickly as ever possible. We’re working on 48-hour delivery of several of the critical assets that we need,” Johnson said, adding that such assets include both troops and critical assets such as helicopters.
“We are assisted by very good colleagues in New York and in other missions that now understand that the scale and the challenge of South Sudan need to be met with unprecedented speed.”
She said UNMISS is investigating reports of extra-judicial killings, arbitrary detentions, mistreatment, abuses and mass rapes, stressing that it is essential that all perpetrators be held accountable. “We are expecting action to follow,” she added, welcoming Mr. Kiir’s order two days ago for the arrest of anyone involved in atrocities and for them to be held accountable.